Why I Put My Prices On My Website


Shortly after graduating from the Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 I got a call about a potential client who was interested in a child portrait consultation. I went over to the clients home and everything was going well. We planned out the date for the shoot and figured out the specifics for the session. Then I told them my prices. At that time I was way out of their price range. It was a huge waste of both the client and I’s time.

Running a business takes a lot of trial and error. You have to be willing to learn from your mistakes. To avoid having more instances like this I started putting my full price list online. This transparency benefits both my potential clients and myself. Clients can easily see what I offer and decide if I am within their budget before we even meet. This also saves me time from having to meet with potential clients who can’t afford me.

For work outside of my normal wheelhouse, which I refer to as “commissioned work”, I don’t have set prices put on my website but will deliver a quote once I have enough details about the shoot.  

Wedding and session pricing can be found here. Product pricing can be found here.

Why I Don’t Wear Black To Weddings


It has been a standard in the photography industry for wedding photographers to wear black to weddings. I only do this if the bride and groom request it. I typically only wear black to funerals.

Weddings are a happy occasion and I like to dress accordingly.

During every wedding consultation I always ask the bride and groom what the dress code will be for the wedding. During the wedding day I want to blend in and look like a fellow guest. This allows me to get better candids. I usually wear a blazer or sport coat with dress pants, tie, and pocket square. For more casual weddings I’ll dress down.

The Biggest Shift In My Thinking Since Graduating From Photography School


I first took an interest in photography over ten years ago. I started entering photoshop contests on the now defunct website worth1000.com per the recommendation of a friend of mine from church. After several unsuccessful attempts in these photoshop contests, I decided to try worth1000’s photography contests where my entries served much better. Back in 2008/2009 I had dial up internet, so much of my early education about photography came from books and magazines. I’d spend hours reading every article in magazines like Shutterbug, Digital Photo, Outdoor Photographer, and similar magazines. My biggest goal at that time was to get my work published in one of these magazines. I entered every contest and call for submissions I could find. In late 2010 I got my first publication in The World of Photography bookazine. In 2011 I got my first magazine cover on the February issue of Shutterbug magazine. During high school I ended up getting published in several other magazines including Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photo, and PDNedu.

After high school I moved to Greenfield, Massachusetts and became a student at the Hallmark Institute of Photography. Hallmark was an intense ten month program which taught how to be a professional photographer. The technical requirements for the photos you submitted where high. I tried to shoot everything by the book. I ended up graduating with the highest academic honor for having the highest grades for the overall school year.


After graduating I was still in the academic mindset. I was still trying to create the most technically perfect photo I could find. Most of these tiny details I’d fret over where things my clients wouldn’t have ever noticed, even if a photo with and without the fretted over details were put side by side. These details were things that only other photographers cared about. But in this pursuit for technical precision I missed many of the things which made a great photo and the things my clients actually cared about. Gesture. Expression. Timelessness. I cared more about meeting the approval of photographers than getting the photos my clients wanted. My priorities were misplaced.

It wasn’t until 2017 that is shift in my thinking really started to take place. Taking photos isn’t about me, meeting the approval of other photographers, or sanctimonious horn tooting, but instead about getting photos my clients will love and cherish for years to come. I started shooting for my clients and not other photographers.

My clients want photos which showcase them. Their genuine expressions. Their personality. The people and places they love and cherish. Not photos flaunting my technical ability.

There are times I get asked to photograph locations or things that aren’t the most photogenic. Usually these are sentimental to people. Back in 2013/2014 I would have tried to talk the client out of it. Now I go with it because it is what my clients want. Will the photo win award or end up in a magazine? I doubt it. But that is not what matters. Getting the photo my clients want is.


This type of thinking didn’t just change how I shot in 2017 but it started to permeate other parts of my business as well. I changed my turn around time to one week instead of two. I started offering digital files and not just prints. I got rid of in person viewing sessions and switched to much easier online galleries. I switched from collections to a la carte offerings for prints and products. I also changed my pricing and put my prices publically on my website. I continue to tweek and adjust the internal systems in my business to make things go as smoothly as possible for clients.

During every wedding consultation I ask the bride and groom what they are most looking forward to on their wedding day. This gives me direction for how I will approach the wedding. Different couples have far different answers. For one couple last year it was all about their two families coming together. For another couple they both came from broken families and wanted a huge emphasis of the day to be on their friends. Another couple wanted a big focus on the details of DIY decorations made for them by their friends and family. At the end of the day it is about shooting what matters to the bride and groom, not trying to get a photo into a bridal magazine or industry recognition.  

Occasionally when I run into people I haven’t seen in years they’ll ask if I’ve been published in any magazines recently. I tell them no. At this point in my career I really don’t care about industry accolades and recognition but shooting good work for my clients instead.  

Don’t Become Obsessed With Photography Equipment


Since creating the Michigan Photography Network in 2017 and starting to dabble in teaching photography in 2018, I have started to get more questions from amature photographers. A common thing I see with new photographers is they are obsessed with gear and acquiring it. This is especially true for those who come from a technical or engineering background. This seems to be less of an issue for those coming into photography from more of an artistic background. Those in the local art communities seem to care less about camera specs, new lenses, and other novelty gear. This obsession with acquiring the latest and greatest gear can become a huge financial burden and won’t lead to you getting better photos.

An amature photographer friend of mine told me recently about a trip he went on. He has a newer and higher end camera and lens combination than I do, but he wasn’t able to get the shot he wanted on the trip. Despite his huge investment in gear he wasn’t able to figure out how to get an image in the high contrast scene he wanted to photograph. If he had spent the time learning about basic photography instead of simply buying more gear he could have gotten the image and saved a lot of money.

The photography industry doesn’t do much to help with this either. A photographer I spoke with last year went on about how “real photographers” (sic) have to use Profoto flashes. I used Profoto flashes in college and they are amazing flashes. They also start out at well over $1000. I can create nearly the exact same photo as those I did in college with my current lighting kit consisting of $400 Alienbees and $15 Yongnuo flashes. The Profotos will last longer and recycle quicker than the Alienbees or Yongnuos but amature and professional photographers don’t need to use the highest end lights available. Quit trying to meet of the approval of the industry snobs and start taking better photos for yourself and your clients.

When it comes to purchasing gear you should focus on buying what you need and not what you want. A lot of photographers especially amateurs waste a lot of money on novel equipment like Lensbabies, fisheye lenses, and other weird novelty gear that will seldom get used. Over my career I’ve acquired a great deal of these novel odds and ends but have ended up selling, giving away, or throwing out most of them in 2018 after reading about minimalism.

My recent gear purchases weren’t impulse buys based off of what my favorite photo industry celebrity endorsed but instead where based on practical factors based on what my clients want. Two lenses I bought in 2018 were a 60mm macro and an 85mm f1.8. Why these two lenses? My wedding clients want macro shots of their wedding rings so I bought a macro lens. I also have many clients who get married in small dimly lit churches. During the ceremony I like to remain as inconspicuous as possible so I don’t use flash. Hence why I bought an 85mm f/1.8.

I also bought several cheap used Yongnuo flashes from eBay. Why? Because now I can give clients a lot more variety of lighting options.

Some of my best purchases for my business in the last few years weren’t even technically photography equipment. Examples? A red wagon I can pull my gear around in. A leatherman multipurpose tool which I’ve used for a wide variety of applications both on shoots and in daily life. Even pieces of foam core to use as reflectors and flags.

Don’t fall for it when people try to convince you that you need the latest, greatest, or most novel gear to get a good photo. Ansel Adams, Gregory Heisler, Arnold Newman, Platon, Joe McNally, Dan Winters, Irving Penn, and the other greats of photography have taken far better photos than I ever have with far inferior gear. Instead focus on learning the craft. It takes time and won’t be solved by buying the latest full frame mirrorless camera and Profoto two head kit.

The Importance of Timelessness in Photography

 

A month or so ago I read thru an article on Rangefinder Magazine featuring the best wedding photography of the year. I forget right off hand what the title of the article was but it featured 30 photographers. Many of the images were stunning, within and of themselves, but almost all of them had a similar retouching applied to get a dark, gritty, dingey look. Even though the images themselves were beautiful the trendy grungy muddy retouching made almost all of the photographers work look the same and clearly dated the work to instantly scream “2017.”

When I first got started in photography back in 2009/2010 high dynamic range photography (commonly called HDR) was all the rage. This technique originally required special software and required the photographer to take several photographs (usually three or more exposures) which were then combined to get details in the lights and darks of an image. These images usually resulted in garish cartoonish images which were loved by non photographers and hated by professionals. Now thanks to improvements in smartphone technology HDR is even available on phone cameras and commonly known to most people today.

Shortly after graduating from Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 plugin and app makers such as VISCO popularized presets and retouching techniques which made images look like they were shot on film. As a fellow Hallmark alumni and I predicted this hipster trend would die and die hard.

Back in the 1980s wedding photographers were the least respected group of working photographers in the industry, after the advent of digital photography nature and landscape  photographers (with the exceptions of a few well knowns) took that position. Part of this was due to hideous trendy photos(like gaudy double exposures of people’s heads in wine glasses).

 

As time goes on I’m sure we’ll have to witness (suffer thru?) many trendy photographic styles; most of which will be caused by retouching and post processing more so than the photography itself. As I had mentioned when observing the recent trend of dark grungy images (which is possibly an overreaction to the airy faux film images of the few years prior) the original photographs (what was captured in camera) were gorgeous but the over processing is what permanently stamped them with the look and feel of 2017.  

Imagine you come from a large family and each sibling had hired the same wedding photographer. Now imagine that the photographer simply adopted the trends of each year. The first 2010 couple would have gaudy HDR images, the second 2013 couple would have hipster-centric faux film images, and most recently photographed 2017 couple would have dark grungy images.

 

The antidote to modern trends in retouching is timelessness. I don’t take the purest view that all retouching is bad and that we should go back to ye olde film days. I have much respect for those who shoot with film but my formal training has been with digital therefore I stick with such. A consistent timeless approach to both the photography and retouching is something that I want to be a hallmark of my work.

 

Since receiving my formal training at Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 my photographic style hasn’t changed greatly. This isn’t an excuse for stagnancy. A photographer’s work should improve over time, and mine has, even though my overall style hasn’t changed. I flee novelty while still improving at my craft. As the years have went on I’ve gotten better at capturing gesture and expression in my images (something my early work lacked). I have also learned to shoot in ways requiring less retouching and post production (partially for pragmatic efficiency workflow reasons) and partially because my work is improving and I’m becoming less dependent on post production. I have always strived to present simple, clean, elegant portraiture (and wedding documentary) to my clients. These defining traits (clean, simple, and elegant) could also be used to describe my commercial, event, and fine art images as well. If you look at the slideshow on my homepage I have images spanning from 2013-2017. The changes in the imagery is subtle. Newer images show more expression and gesture while older images where a little more static and focused on technical precision. Despite the year taken the style as remained the same.

Here at Ryan Watkins Photography I strive to provide clean, simple, elegant photography for my clients regardless of current trends or what genre of photography I am photographing for them.

Modest Models lead to Better Portraits

 

 

One of the first things I learnt during my studies at the Hallmark Institute of Photography was just because an image has an attractive subject doesn’t mean that it is a good photo. Sadly many photographers assume that having having attractive models instantly makes there photographs good.

How you dress you models greatly impacts how good the final image is. When photographers photograph scantly clad models their apparel, or lack there of, will be distract from the models face. When an image is lit to emphasis the models body or cloth instead of the face the image no longer a portrait but a fashion or glamour image.

Having modestly dressed models leads to better portraits because it focuses the views attention on the face and not on there body or cloth. 

Best Places to View the Fall Colors in Michigan

 

 

One of the things I love about being a fine art photographer in Michigan is being able to photograph the beautiful fall colors each year.

 

 

The Pictured Rocks national lake shore is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in Michigan. I haven’t had the opportunity to go back up there in many years. 

 

Most of my Fall 2016 series was photographed near my home town of Clare. Many of the back roads have beautiful color in October. One of my favorite roads to drive down for fall color images in Dover Road near Jays outside of Clare, Michigan. 

 

 

One of the most frequently photographed areas for fall colors is Oak Road between Clare and Coleman Michigan. Most people who have seen the “The Tree Tunnel” end up returning to see it again. To get to Oak Road drive to where Tobacco Drive and Colonville Road meet. Less than a half mile down from the intersection on Tobacco is Oak Road. 

Here are some addition resources for recommended places for viewing fall colors in Michigan. Many of these locations I hope to visit in the future but have yet to. 

12 Of Michigan’s Most Dazzling Fall Color Drives 

18 Spots to See Fall Colors in Michigan 

Upper Peninsula Fall Color Routes 

Top 5 Fall Color Views

Best Places to See Fall Colors in Michigan 

5 Places to See Northern Michigan Fall Color 

Fall Color Tours 

Why Your Photographer Must Know How to Use Flash

 

 
 

Plenty of beautiful images have been taken with natural, or ambient, light, but when you are a professional photographer you have to be able to guarantee you can get beautiful images for clients regardless of the ambient lighting conditions. This is where flash photography comes in. 

When I got my formal photographic training at Hallmark Institute of Photography my professors Gregory Heisler and David Turner would take us once a week to various locations and teach us location lighting. Photographs for different clients and usages require far different lighting. With flash you can create a wide variety of different looks but with natural light alone you a restrained to just one. 

By using flash I can create beautiful studio quality light outside or inside regardless of what the natural light conditions are like. An example is the above portrait of a doctor in Holyoke, Massachusetts. This was photographed in a dark hallway in a hospital. The natural lighting was very poor. By using flash with a Color Temperature Orange gel I was able add beautiful light to light the doctor while letting the background turn blue to make the subject stand out. If I was limited to natural light I wouldn’t be able to get the blue color in the background nor the soft portrait lighting on the subjects face. 

 

 

Boring locations can be turned into beautiful ones when lit properly. The above images are of a church near Midland, Michigan before and after lighting it with flash. 

 

 

 

A technique I regularly use is combining flash and natural light. The above images are examples of this. In all of the above images the natural light is shining on the back of the subject and a flash is lighting the subjects face. If I was using only natural light the subject would either be a silhouette or the the background would be blow out. 

 

Being able to use flash also makes it so I can create portraits at times of day not possible for natural light only photographers. For example these portraits of Jerry and Emily where created long after sunset in downtown Clare. 

 

Wedding receptions are notoriously dark. To get great photos of the dancers flash is required. By using flash combined with a slow shutter speed in rear curtain sync mode I can get the main subject sharp while blurring the other dancers to show motion. Without flash this entire image would be blurry.

 

 

Lastly being able to use flash with a light weight portable background makes it so I can create studio portraits on a black or white background in almost any location. Instead of having to come to me to a studio session I can bring my studio to you! For large groups I can photograph each person individual and later photoshop them together. 

Why I Switched to White House Custom Color

Since moving back to Michigan in 2013 after graduating from Hallmark Institute of Photography I’ve experiment with offering a wide variety of prints and products from various labs. I had been using primarily one lab but as time went on I continued to have more and more problems with their ordering software. It eventually got to the point where I could only order some of their products. At that point I started trying other print labs. I used several which had decent turn around time and good print quality, but White House Custom Color ended up being a cut above all of the aforementioned labs. The print quality and turn around time were great and consistent. When dealing with there customer service when I had some issues ordering they were always polite and solved my issues promptly. They also offer beautiful custom packaging and different print options than my formal primary lab. They support a ton of great charities including Flashes of Hope and Help Portrait which I have been part of in the past. I would highly recommend White House Custom Color to fellow professional photographers. 

How Much Retouching Is To Much?

 

 

Since Photoshop, and other editing software, became readily available there has been a steady stream of complaints about over retouching from the media. Most of the complaints come from photographs used in editorials and advertising, such as slimmed down celebrities and models. Documentary photography and photojournalism hasn’t been free from this controversy either. Many photographers have been in hot water for combining multiple photos and passing them off as reality. Also many of us have probably seen photos of friends and family where there skin has been smoothed to the point of looking like plastic.

 

So what is too much retouching? The answer to that question is greatly based upon what type of photography we are talking about. Something that is within orthodoxy for fine art photography would be seen as heresy in photojournalism. For example compositing, or combining multiple photos into one finished image, would be acceptable, and even common, in fine art photography but would be forbidden in photojournalism. This would become a gray area in nature photography depending on what images were combined and how.

 

When determining how much retouching is acceptable we have to decided what type of image we are dealing with. Is this image supposed to be an accurate representation of real life or not? Documentary and photojournalism should look as close to real life as possible. Fine art can look like just about anything and does not have to be an accurate rendition of the subject. Most types of photographs fall somewhere in the middle.

 

The following conclusions are what are generally considered acceptable by the photography industry as a whole when it comes to retouching. I do not think that just because most people in the photography industry agree that some kind of retouching is okay that it then makes it okay. For example if the majority of the industry decided it was okay for me to Photoshop my head onto some buff guy’s body and put it on an online dating site that wouldn’t be acceptable just because the majority in the industry agreed that it would be.

 

For the type of portrait photography that I primarily deal with, seniors and families, we want our subjects to look rested and healthy. Essentially the average senior and family portrait photographer wants his or her subjects to look like themselves on their best day. When retouching we go by a rule called “The Two Week Rule.” If something was there two weeks ago or will be there in two weeks we keep it but have the liberty to reduce it. If something wasn’t there two weeks ago or won’t be there in two weeks we get rid of it. For example a mole or birth mark, which has been there for over two weeks and will be there two weeks in the future, we may minimize or reduce, but we would not fully remove. A scar or pimple, which wasn’t there two weeks ago and won’t be there in two weeks, would be removed.

 

Senior and family portrait photography does allow more leeway in some aspects of retouching. For example, adding unique textures, compositing for creative backgrounds, and even face swaps in family photos are all fair game. Unnecessary skimming down and overly aggressive skin smoothening would be unacceptable though.

 

Unlike senior and family portrait photography advertising, editorial, and celebrity portraiture doesn’t have an easily rule like “The Two Week Rule” to follow. High-end retouchers, who work on celebrity portraits for the covers of Vogue and the like, can spend over eight hours doing intricate pixel level retouching. Probably the most controversy has risen from these types of images. Unlike your typical family portrait or photojournalism the line is not as cleanly defined as to when is too much.

 

Many people will complain about how these images are trying to promote that all people should look like these celebrities. I don’t deny that many, mostly younger girls, are discouraged by these images if they view them as a standard of beauty. If these images are viewed as such it is problematic, because in reality no one looks like the person on the finished cover of Vogue. It is fake. People have taken someone most of society considers attractive then they have spend thousands of dollars on the world’s best make-up artists, hair stylists, wardrobe stylists, photographers, and retouchers to make them look even better. If we see the same celebrity in real life they won’t look like they did on the magazine cover.

 

The argument over whether or not this type of retouching is acceptable or not will probably go on for a very long time. I’m not going to attempt to solve the issue in this short article. Something to keep in mind is these images are not meant to be documentary photography or photojournalism. They are not accurate representations of reality. They are highly produced images created to get you to buy a product or magazine and should be viewed as such.

 

Photojournalism and documentary photography definitely has the strictest rules for retouching. This is supposed to be as accurate to real life as possible. Compositing would be unacceptable. Most global adjustments, retouching which affects the entire image, would be allowed. For example turning and image black and white or fixing exposure by darkening the entire image would be acceptable. Dodging and burning, selectively lightening and darkening parts of the image, is a bit of a gray area and may or may not be allowed depending on how much it changes the image.

 

There is a lot of gray area in what is allowed in nature, wildlife, and landscape photography. Even film landscape masters like Ansel Adams spend much time in the dark room getting his prints perfect. Local retouching, retouching that effects a specific part of the image compared to the whole, is almost always acceptable. For example intricate dodging and burning is allowed. There are some times when combining multiple photos may be allowed and times when it is not. If several images are taken at the same location on a tripod with varying exposures, and then are later combined so that there will be details in the lightest and darkest parts of the image this is generally accepted. On the other hand, if the same scene is photographed but an animal or sky from another image at a different location is added this would not be allowed. Compositing for tonality, getting detail in the lights and darks, is okay but adding things to the scene is generally not allowed.

 

In fine art photography anything goes. You can pretty much set your own rules here. Some fine art photographers may want to only shoot using film and never touch Photoshop where as others may do series with tons of compositing. As long as you are consistent you are good.